The Come Up: GoldLink
The mysterious MC behind The God Complex speaks.
The road for GoldLink has been extremely interesting to watch. Strategically within a span of a year, the DMV native has got a lot of important names in the industry watching him. For his first show at Electric Circus' The Players Ball in NYC earlier this month, executives from Nas' Mass Appeal Records and 300 representative Kevin Liles were in attendance. All of them were intrigued to see if the hype was really real.
GoldLink's buzz can be traced back to August 2013. With a knack for social media strategies and efficient use of SoundCloud, the 21-year-old MC began his plan to takeover hip-hop by dropping heaters over the span of eight months. With little to no original music to his name yet ("Electric Relaxation" and "On & On" were solid buzzmakers), The Break alum went to work on reworking songs from Kendrick Lamar and TLC that got huge plays on SoundCloud. By the time "One Step Back" came out, fans were enamored.
Link released his free album, The God Complex, back in April. It's easily one of the best projects of the year so far, with many media outlets like Complex and Beats Music co-signing his movement early on. There's just something infectious about his music - the drum patterns in his beats are bouncy, while his lyrics trigger an emotional response. On top of that, Link just started rapping three years ago. Not bad for someone his age.
While in NY, GoldLink came by the XXL HQ to discuss how he never wanted to be a rapper, the making of The God Complex and if he is staying independent or not. It looks like the DMV produced another rapper to follow other than Fat Trel, Shy Glizzy and Wale. Get to know GoldLink in The Come Up.—Emmanuel C.M.
Previously: The Come Up: Bandman Kevo
"I literally made The God Complex in less than a month. I had so many God Complexs, but I scrapped them until I hit this crazy zone and that was that.”
XXL: Tell me about your background.
GoldLink: I was born in Columbia Hospital, which is in Maryland. I was raised in Maryland but I was back in forth between Maryland and DC. Then my mom divorced and I moved to Virginia and I still live there currently.
What was your early musical inspiration?
I grew up with go-go music. We wasn’t really hip-hop fans. Go-go is so drum and Congo based. It’s almost like music from Africa. The drums like on “Planet Paradise” are deeply African-rooted. It’s really bouncy and the same speed as go-go music. That’s an example of the influence go-go had on me.
What was the first go-go song you heard? Talk about some of your early experiences.
I heard go-go everywhere because I grew up with it. Mainly when I felt go-go was in cookouts. Hood cookouts, Father’s Day cookouts or stuff like that, we used to hear go-go music when we were younger. Old school shit. 1990s go-go. Then we had young nigga go-go - 2004-2009.
The DMV is such a melting pot for music, how did it influence you?
My father was a big soul fan; he played like Kenny G., Seal, Musiq Soulchild, that was his shit. He liked it because he would say, “you never going to understand this shit until you get older.” He liked the storytelling aspect, the feelings and the things that he can interpret. My mother was into church so she listens to gospel music. I like the way gospel is composed ... the great vocalist chord and the way they make you feel. But then my brother played Hot Boyz and Pastor Troy, Juelz [Santana] album, [50 Cent's] Get Rich or Die Tryin'. I grew up in a household of so much music from people with different tastes. Then when you go outside, I'd hear go-go. DC is like chocolate city. The soul is huge there. Raheem Devaughn would sell the shit out of a show if he performs there. At the same time you go to the streets, you go to the hood you hear go-go music. So you take all that growing up in this area that’s so populated and dense. You feed off so much shit. You see and hear so much shit and that’s the God complex.
How were you as a person growing up? Childhood and all?
I was bad. I was really bad. My mother is a great person, [but] my mother wasn’t around because she was doing so much work for the church. Like, she preaches for the prisons on Sundays and stuff like that. It was one point she was out 6-7—she was gone, I wouldn’t see her for weeks on time because she was so active. She would work 9-5, get off work go to bible college or do something like programs. She was always doing something so she had to make sure I fend for myself. So on top of that, my dad, he used to work three jobs until they broke up and he wasn’t even there no more. My brother is 10 years older than me, by the time I’m 10, he’s 20. So I grew up by myself. So I did whatever the fuck I wanted to do and there was no consequence. My mother didn’t have time to discipline. I was into so much shit that it wasn’t cool. But I can rap about it 'cause I’m alive. I was into a lot. Like car stealing, selling, beaten up niggas. Just dumb shit. Point is I did a lot for a young nigga. It’s only one way to go if you keep on that path so I realized it. I kept living it even when I was rapping, and sometimes I still do, but I try to live straight.
When did you start rapping?
I started rapping when I was 18-19. When I was 20, when I started seeing shit pick up. I was like maybe I should take this shit seriously. Stop bullshitting. So I want to say officially 19 turning 20. I didn’t have shit else to do. I didn’t want to go to college after high school. I barely finished high school. Damn near dropped out. I didn’t want to do anything else. I didn’t want to rap either. I just did it because there was literally nothing else for me to do. When I started taking it seriously, I said I was going to do it correctly. I started studying and reading, shit I was supposed to learn in school. But I taught myself anyway.
What were you studying at the time?
Poetry, it’s the form of rap to me. Poetry is the main thing I started to study, I studied how to write, how to switch it up. Then I started studying music as a whole - who’s great at what they do and who they look up to. I started studying everything, like Stereolab and Arcade Fire and James Brown. Then something started clicking. This music is making people feel good.
So what were you doing to perfect your craft at 18?
I was always good at writing. I wrote bitches love letters and shit. I could fall asleep in English and still get an A. I would write and spit it to my friends and they say "You need to start taking this seriously." I would say, "Yeah, alright, y’all trying to go do some dumb shit today" and kept it moving. I never took it seriously but I was good at it. I was better than everybody else rapping but I was just like fuck it. I kept it going without knowing it. I ended up starting to get really into it. I started to enjoy it.
How you get your name?
My first original name was GoldLink James. I put out a song called “Geechie” [and] it wasn’t that good. I got my name because I used to watch American Pimp. That’s one of my favorite documentaries of all time. I want to be a pimp. I got GoldLink James, so pimped out. Then I revamped it and dropped James and kept GoldLink. Simple and easier.
What was the first song for GoldLink?
The first song was this track that’s somewhere on the Internet. We took it down. The official drop was “Electronic Relaxation.” My whole thought process was doing something different no matter what. No matter if people fuck with it or not, people are going to talk. I dropped five-six songs before The God Complex, but there were literally each different songs. So nobody could box me in. Give the best quality music you can but the least amount of quantity as possible. So I recorded 20 songs and picked one. It's hard but its about patience. So when I dropped “Electronic Relaxation” on SoundCloud, it got 30K. Then “On&On” and people was like "OK." Then I dropped “Creep” and then niggas was like "Oh ok, he’s going to be here for a while." That’s three different songs.
When I did “Electronic Relaxation” it was rapping over this wild beat and niggas didn’t know what to feel. When I did “On&On” it was slower and more singing and niggas realized I could sing. Before “Creep,” niggas didn’t think I could spit. So I dropped “Creep." If niggas questioned that then I dropped “Playah,” then I dropped “The Heart” to let niggas know me. Not just some fun ass nigga like I will beat your ass. I dropped all these songs so people can be like "I got to get a project."
When did started recording for The God Complex?
I started recorded for The God Complex when I started rapping, which is when I was 18.
Wow, so this is a three-year process?
What was the timeline for these songs then?
All of them are recent except for “Ay Ay” I made that a year ago for my birthday. I just turned 20 and was in the strip club. I said I don’t know but this is going to be the intro for the tape, that’s all I knew. I was recording 400 songs. I did that not to put it out but to figure out my voice, where I was going, what my sound was, to find something. I wanted to come out as a veteran. I wanted niggas to be like, "He is it." I wanted to fuck niggas' game plan up. I started hitting this groove. When I did that, "Planet Paradise" came. Then "Bedtime" came. "Fuck Being Polite," "How It's Dope" came, then "Hip Hop" came. "CNTRL" was the last one to be made. I literally made The God Complex in less than a month. I had so many God Complexs, but I scrapped them until I hit this crazy zone and that was that.
How did you come up with the name of the album?
It came from me. I’m not a cocky person but I’m very confident. So I rap braggadocious on purpose. It came from a mindset but it’s not like that. It’s like watching this confident cocky guy explain in The God Complex that he’s a human being just like you. Like I tell you I’m a fuck up the entire time.
Were you surprised about the strong approval?
My main concern was I don’t think people would get it. I was like nobody will get it. They’re going to call me a weirdo. But surprisingly a lot of people understood it. I almost wish it got more negativity just to see what I can do wrong and do better. But it got such a strong response for a first project, it was humbling. So now I can take it another level. I’m blessed.
People are dubbing your music as “future bounce.” What are your thoughts?
I don’t know [Laughs]. I think it’s an easier way for people to classify me because I don’t know what it is. I guess future bounce is the same bounce that we all know. Like Kanye “Get’em High.” It's the same shit. It doesn’t sound the same but it feels the same.
Why don’t you like showing your face?
It’s always going to be about the music for me. Image is important because that’s apart of hip-hop, it’s just something that’s not going to be on the forefront for me. I want people to see me live because they have to connect with something. Mainly, I just want to keep it to the music. That’s the focus.
Are you staying a free agent?
I’m good where I am; nothing wrong with a label. They can get you into places you can’t go by yourself. For now at the stage that I’m at, I think I’m good where I’m at. A lot of people have reached out to me; a lot of producers especially.
What is your goal in music?
Music is so unemotional right now. Everyone chasing the hits and using the same generic formula. Get this tight ass beat, tight ass hook or dumb ass verse and you’re going to get on the radio. There’s no emotion to that. When I did “When I Die,” I wanted to make a motherfucker cry. There’s a car crash at the end and it cuts off. I wanted niggas to ask why. But everything has to die but we don’t want to talk about it. I want to bring emotion. That’s what I do it for. I want to make people happy, dance, and cry.